Plots of the announced catastrophe

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In times of a pandemic, the moral folly of a representative who lives proudly in the basements of incivility indicates unprecedented damage to our history

By Bruna Triana* e Lucas Amaral de Oliveira**


New angel, Paul Klee's painting, must be read in reverse of Benjamin's interpretation. With bulging eyes, cynical laughter and retracted wings, the angel is carried away by the past. Where, before us, catastrophes accumulate that we try not to repeat, he glimpses his horizon. The inverted angel does not stop to wake up the dead, to mourn them. Instead, it exalts tyrants and torturers, jagunços and executioners, lynchers and rapists. This is how he recomposes, from body to body, the fragments of a project that is always on the lookout: the regulation of barbarism. The storm that is blowing seems incapable of carrying him into the future. The angel closes himself, more and more, in his private universe, marveling at fantasies, surrendering to the past. The pile of rubble grows under his feet. He wants to make ruins his home. What we call a country is an angel that contemplates the future as a return of the past. The storm, the stubborn hope that, with the little air it still has, resists blowing.


We are not even close to the most acute phase of Covid-19 in Brazil and the catastrophe already announces incorrigible consequences. However, even in the face of the world in suspension, Jair Bolsonaro spurs his supporters against the evidence that will soon drown him. On the one hand, he bets his mandate on the fictitious prospects of devout advisors and on what he “believes to be true”, boasting of a kind of ideological blinder that prevents him from seeing a hand ahead. On the other hand, he enhances the narratives of victimization and hostility against the media, governors, the scientific community and international entities, enemies who, for him, form a plot of “globalists” whose objective is to overthrow him. This disregard for the potential risks of the pandemic has turned him into “the coronavirus denialist leader”. The more infected and dead people accumulate throughout Brazil, the more their denialism acquires the physiognomy of a project. We are subjected to two orders of misfortunes: the escalation of the virus and Bolsonaro's stay in power. In the depths of the mirror at which we look, we perceive the disturbing reflection of the colonialist project that has never ceased to be present. The old Brazilian tragedy returns – after all, we have been exterminating bodies for more than 500 years, silencing knowledge and burying differences in mass graves.


In an unprecedented way, worldwide, we experience the affliction of living a dystopia that inhabited the most inventive literary traditions. From Mary Shelley to Octavia Butler, from Aldous Huxley to José Saramago, from George Orwell to Margaret Atwood: in the fictional portrait they forged of the reverses of history, we glimpse the harbingers of our civilizational collapse. Everything indicates that the impacts of Covid-19 will be immeasurable. In Brazil, projections point to the loss of thousands, if not millions, of lives, in addition to the breakdown of the social, economic and health systems. To mitigate the effects and spare the health system from a failure that will lead to an exponential increase in deaths, it is recommended to adopt measures to mitigate contagion.

Not all paths to be followed are obvious. But there are two international consensus: it is necessary that the pandemic be taken seriously and that the public power adopt, on the one hand, horizontal isolation protocols to prevent the massive transmission of the virus and, on the other, actions to reduce the socioeconomic impacts of the crisis. . The problem is that Bolsonaro has only addictions, intellectual limitations and contempt for other people's lives in his curriculum. Even without screaming lurid words when he externalizes this contempt, his Thanatos drive, as in Nazi-fascist rhetoric, glorifies the “healthy body” and the resistance of the “athlete” – supposedly invulnerable.

This “flawed” discursive act reflects a mixture of hygienism and eugenics, as it suggests that we would be facing a situation in which the “strong” must survive and the “weak” succumb. Bolsonaro is our biggest executioner, before whom the jargon “there is nothing so bad that it cannot get worse” falls apart. Their irresponsible attitudes, by action or omission, throw people's lives into a shredder of futures. Its intransigent pronouncements, its unconstitutional conduct, the constant instrumentalization of lies and the change of “tactics” at the whim of the convenience of the allies, the moods of the market and the hashtags of social networks, make up its method of managing the crisis.


Countries that have been successful in combating the pandemic, in addition to following sanitary measures to flatten the contagion curve, are looking for alternatives to avoid the socioeconomic collapse of their countries: lines of credit, suspension of debt payments, implementation of basic income, transfer of resources to the health system, abandonment of the spending ceiling. More than ever, neoliberalism asks the State for help – which he insists on disdaining so much – in search of protection.

On the other hand, Bolsonaro reiterates a speech aligned with the booklet of the sectors of the economic elite that elected him, at the same time that he satisfies his horde of conspiracy acolytes, still numerous. We are compelled to add to the eternal political (civilization x barbarism) and socioeconomic (work x capital) disputes, a medical-sanitary dispute (life x death). “Brazil Can't Stop” is the motto of his crusade against evidence and life. From the confines of our homes, pots in hand, we shout back: “Who can die so that the economy cannot stop?”. The illusion of Sofia's choice that does not exist is created.

There is another Bolsonarist crusade: against vulnerable classes. Neoliberalism has always operated with the apparatus of calculus, pouring lives into numbers. In this system, some stocks are worth more than others, due to their productive potential. The implication of this logic is that those who “have no value”, not people, can be more easily discarded, as they constitute, according to Judith Butler, bodies subject to elimination and extermination. The contempt for the health of the most fragile and the logic of sacrificing precarious lives inhabit the biopolitical system of “authoritarian neoliberalism”. Whether in Turkey or the Philippines, Hungary or the USA, India or Brazil: perversity is found at the intersection of anti-democratic practices, economic nationalism, xenophobia and official racism, and capitalist rationalities extended to decisions about who should live and who can die. .

But what to do with those who are condemned to this worthless existence? What to do with the killable corpses that already pile up? For Achille Mbembe, we experience another stage of authoritarian neoliberal management, the “necroliberalism”, conception of politics in which life is the object of statistical calculation and, therefore, is emptied of intrinsic value. The importance of life depends on the degree of objectification that the usurious balance of the “market-state” determines. Many people still insist on saying that we would be facing an egalitarian virus, since we are all vectors of propagation and targets of contagion. However, under what conditions does contagion, illness, hospitalization, care and survival take place? Who is obliged to choose between isolation or work? Who loses a job, a source of income and, in effect, becomes dependent on emergency aid packages? Who has access to ICU beds, breathing apparatus, health plans and medications? Which bodies, of what class, race and gender, will be picked up from the sidewalks, thrown into mass graves, veiled without witnesses? At the crossroads of privileges and rights, who dies? Precarious lives are discarded as soon as they prove to be unsuitable for the workings of this great colonial mill from which we never left.


There are three lessons to be learned from historical fascism in order to think about the authoritarian necroliberalism of Bolsonarist Brazil. The first is that it depends on popular support, unlike other types of tyranny. The second is that it implements, in the midst of the feelings of a resentful minority – and that yearns to become collaborators with the regime –, a “moral court”, whose rhetoric is that of the persecution and elimination of the “other”. The third is that fascism grows as a shameless anti-intellectualism matures, added to a repudiation of popular culture, the refusal of affection as a form of sociability, the denial of diversity, the condemnation of religious pluralism and denialism. of multiple natures.

Every day, “evil perversities” are uttered by those who are aware of what is behind the hate speeches and the grammar of eliminating the “other” led by Bolsonaro. These perversities make up what the Jamaican philosopher Charles Wade Mills called "aggressive ignorance." Innocently aggressive, those who continue to endorse the president's history, as well as the ideological foundations that guide his mandate, bear the mark of what Hannah Arendt called “collective responsibility”. Therefore, the collaborationists must be co-responsible for the catastrophe that is announced. By assimilating and applauding the ideology of their “myths”, they sign a collective pact in favor of barbarism.


In the comings and goings of his pronouncements, whose pendulum moves from dissimulation to untruth, Bolsonaro stages his game: the articulation between ultrapolitics, which militarizes discourses and practices, enacting war against “others”, and post-truth, which abuses the porosity of public opinion to impose regimes of truth through emotional appeals that ignore facts. Although he alters the tone of the speeches according to the circumstances, he follows manipulating information to the point of cultivating and spreading what Primo Levi denounced as “truths of convenience”.

Let's take two examples. First, Bolsonaro released an MP that, in one of his articles, released employers from paying their employees' salaries for four months. On the same day, after popular pressure, went back. Second, it raised the possibility of a voucher of R$ 200 for informal workers. When he suffered rejection due to the timidity of the measure, and with the opposition gaining space with an emergency income project worth R$ 600, he decided to omit the origin of the plan, in order to capitalize politically on the idea, selling it, in a network national, like fruit of his management. The feigned concern with street vendors, day laborers, shopkeepers and truck drivers took him from the motto “Brazil Cannot Stop” to an inauthentic “paternity” of the minimum income – flag history of the left.

It's not just a war of narratives. Bolsonaro's discursive inconsistency is a project that includes, in addition to the manipulation of the truth and the spread of misinformation, One calculated ignorance which, at the limit, throws us into a political reality in which lying is instrumentalized as a method. O slogan by Joseph Goebbels, minister of Adolf Hitler – “a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth” –, resurfaces and, in a veiled or cynical way, drown us with false messages that its robots help spread on social media.


Brazil is a land of experiments for an occasional republican right, authoritarian by conviction. Founded by an agromercantile oligarchy based on a loose republicanism that wanted to renew itself, the “modern” national state built its foundations on ideologies that normalized racial hierarchies, eugenics, inequalities and violence, used as a system of governance. This “original evil” is present in colonialities that are difficult to extirpate from our daily lives. Frantz Fanon paid attention to this “germ of decadence” that the colonial processes bequeathed to the social, political, economic, cultural and mental institutions of subordinated peoples. In Brazil, the implication of these colonialities turned out to be a dangerous synthesis between the delinquent bossiness of the political elites and the necroliberal servility of the economic elites. This arrangement has been working together to increasingly weaken the social support policies achieved in past governments, while at the same time accelerating deregulations that affect other key sectors, such as finance and the environment. Added to this destructive combination is an arrogant moralism and a tacky mongrelism of our middle classes.

In times of a pandemic, the moral folly of a representative who lives proudly in the basements of incivility indicates unprecedented damage to our history. in your work The drowned and the survivors, Primo Levi stated: “Few countries can claim to be immune from future waves of violence, generated by intolerance, the will to power, economic reasons, religious fanaticism, political blindness and racial friction. It is therefore necessary to awaken our senses”. The fire has always been here – and now it jumps out at us. Its flames burn, for example, when Jair Bolsonaro and his collaborators try to revise the military dictatorship. They defend and celebrate a regime that used torture and rape as interrogation methods, death and the disappearance of bodies as a State policy. With this, they prove themselves to be, in addition to collaborationists, potential abusers who feed, in a necrophagic way, on the hatred of the “other”. This is Bolsonarist Brazil: the country whose vocation is butchery.


There's a great snippet in the invisible cities, by Ítalo Calvino: “The hell of the living is not something that will be; if it exists, it is the one that is already here, the hell in which we live every day, which we form by being together. There are two ways not to suffer. The first is easy for most people: to accept hell and become a part of it, even to the point of not even noticing it. The second is risky and requires continuous attention and learning: trying to know how to recognize, from within hell, what is not hell, and preserve it, and open space”.

May we have the strength, in the midst of the catastrophe announced by this double epidemic, political and health, to know who and what is not hell. To do so, we need to defend, against barbarism, what remains of civility in the ideological, political and institutional spheres: freedom of expression, press and professorship, public education, cultural manifestations, anti-racism and the unconditional fight against any kind of prejudice, sexual and gender diversity, religious pluralism and the exercise of solidarity, affection and empathy. After all, these are the targets that Bolsonaro and his collaborationists want to destroy on a daily basis. Before “the spark reaches the dynamite, the burning wick must be cut”, warns Walter Benjamin. We know who the wick is. His desire is to set everything and everyone on fire, so that the past, which so captivates him in his fantasies, returns. But the storm that blows is stubborn hope. Let us learn from the great thinker and indigenous leader Ailton Krenak: it is the wind of hope that will help us postpone the beginning of the end of the world that is before us.

* Bruna Triana is a doctor in Social Anthropology from USP.

** Lucas Oliveira He is a professor at the Department of Sociology at UFBA.

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